There is so much to do during your visit to the Black Hills, from historic 1880 train rides and adventure parks to museums and monuments (including Mount Rushmore, of course!). One of our favorite ways to experience this area is by exploring its natural beauty, either with a scenic drive or a hike through the Black Hills National Forest or Custer State Park.
Thankfully, we have so many incredible hiking trails here in the Black Hills. After all, the area is named for its rolling hills, which appear dark from a distance due to the abundance of evergreen trees dotting the landscape. This terrain creates the ideal hiking conditions!
During your visit, make plans to tackle one or two of these hikes in the Black Hills. We’ve included a mix of trails varying in difficulty, length and features you’ll find along the way, like streams, historic sites, waterfalls, rock formations, lakes and more. And of course, each hike offers some unbeatable views!
NOTE: Keep in mind that many of these hikes are located within Custer State Park, which requires an entrance fee. A temporary license, lasting 1-7 days, is $20 per vehicle and an annual park entrance license is $36. Get more information here!
Central Black Hills | 7.1-Mile Loop | Moderate
Reaching an elevation of 7,242 feet, Black Elk Peak is not only the tallest peak in South Dakota — it’s the tallest peak east of the Rockies! For this reason, the views from the top are unbeatable, as you can see the surrounding Black Elk Wilderness and even as far as Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska and North Dakota. You can also explore a stone fire tower that was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1938 and decommissioned in 1967. There are several ways to reach Black Elk Peak, but one of the best and most common ways is by taking Trail #9, which starts at Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park. That way, you can go swimming before or after you hike! Be sure to pack plenty of water and snacks, as this moderate hike can take about 4 hours to complete and there is no water available on the trails.
PRO TIP: Make sure you bring a jacket or sweatshirt for the top. Even if it’s warm at Sylvan Lake, it can be quite chilly due to the high elevation, especially when the wind hits!
Central Black Hills | 1.6-Mile Out-and-Back | Moderate
The unique rock formations known as the Needles or the Spires are a must-see when visiting Custer State Park. And the 1.6-mile Cathedral Spires Trail takes you right through this stunning landmark — and many experienced climbers even attempt to climb these towering rocks. This out-and-back trail is considered moderate, as it has several challenging portions requiring hikers to maneuver through various rocks and boulders. But overall, this is a doable hike with lots of interest, including both the spires and any wildlife you might encounter along the way (like mountain goats). Not to mention, you get to kill two birds with one stone. To get to the trailhead you have to drive the scenic Needles Highway, which should be on your list of things to do anyway! Plan to spend about an hour completing this hike — or longer, if you decide to linger around the Needles for a while.
Northern Black Hills | 1.6-Mile Out-and-Back | Moderate
On a hot day, there’s no better place to be than Devil’s Bathtub, a pool of water accessible with a short 1.6-mile out-and-back hike. But be forewarned: the secret’s out about this dreamy spot, so expect to see other hikers and swimmers there, especially on weekends and holidays. Make sure to wear water shoes, as this moderate hike crosses the stream several times, sometimes without much of a makeshift rock or tree “bridge” you can use. And of course, bring your swimsuit so you can jump in the “bathtub” as your reward! The parking lot and trailhead for Devil’s Bathtub are located on private property, so be mindful of this. And of course, pack plenty of water and snacks if you plan to hang out by the water for a couple of hours.
Northern Black Hills | 2.1-Mile Out-and-Back (Roughlock) + 0.8-Mile Out-and-Back | Easy
If you’re in the Devil’s Bathtub area looking for more water, make sure you spend some time in Spearfish Canyon! More ancient than the Grand Canyon, the narrow 1,000-foot-tall Spearfish Canyon is one of the most breathtaking sights to see here in the Black Hills. And one of the best ways to experience the canyon is by hiking along one of the many trails winding through the area, including Roughlock Falls Trail and Spearfish Falls Loop. As the names imply, each hike leads to a spectacular waterfall — providing the perfect backdrop for a picnic or family photo. Each of these hikes are short and easy, so you can tackle several in one trip!
Central Black Hills | 3.6-Mile Out-and-Back | Moderate
Reaching an elevation just 200 feet shorter than its neighbor, Black Elk Peak, Little Devil’s Tower Trail is a popular hike in Custer State Park — but not too popular, which means you’ll have less crowds to navigate. This relatively short and moderate hike includes some more intense moments, including a large granite crevasse and some rocks to climb near the summit. But the views from the top are absolutely worth it, offering a panoramic view of Black Elk Peak and the Cathedral Spires. If you’re up for it, you can even explore the Noble Mica Mine, accessible with a short walk just off the trail. Start your hike at the Little Devil’s Tower Trailhead, located about a mile east of Sylvan Lake on Highway 87.
Central Black Hills | 2.8-Mile Loop | Hard
For a more challenging hike, look no further than Sunday Gulch Trail, a 2.8-mile loop located right off Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park. Because it’s a loop, you get to choose which direction you want to go. Hiking clockwise means you tackle the more difficult terrain in the beginning and have handrails assisting you as you climb up boulders near the end of the hike, as opposed to handrails helping you down, which is the case for counterclockwise hikers. Either way, you’ll feel like Indiana Jones as you hop around on boulders along a stream that was dammed in the 1890s to form Sylvan Lake. The scenery is stunning throughout, as you pass through ponderosa pine, birch, aspen and spruce trees — and sometimes wildflowers lining the trail.
PS The clockwise vs. counterclockwise debate is real for Sunday Gulch Trail, since the experience differs depending on the direction you take. Read some of the strong opinions here to help make your decision!
Southern Black Hills | 4.2-Mile Loop | Moderate
Lover’s Leap is a 4.2-mile loop in Custer State Park circling around the Galena Creek Canyon, featuring many granite outcroppings and cliffs. The trail got its name from the legend that two Native American lovers once leaped to their death from this point. It is a moderate-to-difficult hike, which takes nearly 2 hours to complete, starting at the trailhead sign near an old schoolhouse along US Highway 16A. Prepare to cross a creek several times throughout the hike, which can rise to higher levels depending on the year’s rainfall. The hike has varied terrain and several elevation changes, providing a challenge for all skill levels. It can also be a bit overgrown in parts (and many have warned about poison ivy!), so consider wearing long pants.
Central Black Hills | 3.9-Mile Loop | Easy
Get a history lesson and some exercise while you hike along the Flume Trail, an easy 3.9-mile loop near Rapid City. It has been designated a National Recreation Trail due to its historical significance dating back to the Gold Rush in the 1880s. The Rockerville Flume once carried water 20 miles from Spring Creek in the west to the placer diggings to the east, near Rockerville. The trail follows the former flume bed for much of its length, and you’ll see many historic artifacts, tunnels, and portions of the flume along the way — just be sure to leave them be, so other hikers can enjoy them for years to come!
Northern Black Hills | 6.8-Mile Out-and-Back | Moderate
Just outside Spearfish lies Crow Peak Trail, a moderately challenging 6.8-mile trail with stunning views at the top, due to an elevation change of 1,500 feet. The terrain is mostly dirt, with a little bit of loose rock in the last quarter mile of the descent, so make sure you’re paying attention! But once you reach the top, you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world and the climbing will have been worth it. Be sure to make your mark in the journal at the summit!
Central Black Hills | 1.7-Mile Out-and-Back | Easy
If you’re looking for a quick scenic stroll, consider Stratobowl Rim Trail, a short trail close to Rapid City that has become quite popular for locals. While it’s not exactly a strenuous “hike” by any means, it provides beautiful views — especially at sunset. The area has a fascinating history as the launch site of manned balloons into the stratosphere to a record 72,395 feet in 1934 and 1935, hence the name Stratobowl. And if you plan your trip just right, you can see the launch of hot air balloons from the Stratobowl in mid-to-late September! Due to the trail’s popularity and the overflow of cars once parked along the highway, there is a new parking area off S Highway 16.
Let us know which hike(s) you tried — we’d love to hear about your hiking adventure through the Black Hills!